Image’s THE BEAUTY is a stunning and unique thriller piece, co-created by Jeremy Haun — also the lead artist — and Jason Hurley and colored by the talented John Rauch. We recently got the opportunity to ask Haun and Hurley some questions about what went into their process for THE BEAUTY, as well as what they can tell us about their plans for future arcs; please read on and enjoy what they have to have to say about it!
Geeks WorldWide: What was the research process for THE BEAUTY like, and in what ways did it affect or change the complete story? That is, did you have the whole story worked out from the beginning and then supplemented it further, or was any part of it influenced or altered by something you learned and decided to incorporate?
HAUN: The vision for the series was pretty clear, from the beginning. We worked out the story for The Beauty on a long car ride home from a convention. Four hours later, we had the premise and the majority of the first arc ironed out. That’s not to say that we didn’t adjust a bit and add things along the way. Part of the fun of writing is being surprised by what our characters do.
HURLEY: We did a lot of looking into sexually transmitted infections, how they work, and how the curable ones are cured. We had already pretty much determined the arc of the story by that point though, and a lot of the research involved finding facts that could potentially back up what we’d already written. Honestly, we were taken aback by how much of the pseudo-science we’d made up was supported by real evidence.
GWW: Similarly, how much did the story change — if at all — from conception to execution? Were there any early ideas you wish you could have kept, or did you get to include everything you wanted?
HAUN: There were definitely subtle changes to characters along the way. Pretty quickly Vaughn became our favorite character in the book. We kept giving moments and bits of Foster’s action to her. That was as much learning about the characters as anything.
HURLEY: Some of the concepts we wanted to hit on weren’t included in the first arc, but luckily, we have the chance to explore pretty much everything we want to in coming stories.
GWW: Since the two of you both share co-author billing, has that made scripting THE BEAUTY different than other books either of you have worked on? Is the process more mutual brainstorming / give and take, or do you each have specific contributions you prefer to focus on? Or both?
HURLEY: We did almost all of the writing for The Beauty while sitting in the same room, and it was great to be able to bounce ideas off of each other and debate plot points face to face. This was my first major published work, and if I ever work with another co-writer, I can’t imagine doing it any other way than what Jeremy and I did.
HAUN: Co-writing The Beauty was kind of a dream. Most of the writing that I’ve done prior to the series was done full script, keeping in mind that someone else was going to be drawing the thing. With The Beauty, Hurley and I sat down together, plotted each issue on a white board page by page, then we would write the issue together- him writing down dialogue bits and panel descriptions, while I would thumbnail out the issue. After the issues were drawn, we’d go back and polish the dialogue together. It’s not a process that’s going to work every time, but it was absolutely comfortable for us.
GWW: Has there been any response to THE BEAUTY that’s surprised you? Not just regarding its reception or success — more specifically, have you encountered any analysis or discussion that’s just totally grasped the subtleties you’ve put into the story so far, or that made you look at a part of the story with a different perspective?
HAUN: When you make something, you always hope that your audience will dig it- get it. At the same time, you have to make that story for you. We kind of went all in on The Beauty. We really didn’t have any idea how it would be received. I mean, we’re doing a book about sexually transmitted disease, here. For me the biggest surprise was how much our audience got it- understood exactly what we were trying to go for. They loved the characters and story, but really got behind the social commentary. It gave us the confidence to tell the story the way we wanted to, knowing that there was an audience out there “getting it”.
GWW: I loved the idea of the #BEAUTYFREE body positive campaign. I feel like THE BEAUTY asks a lot of subtle (and some not-so-subtle) social questions about the consumption of sex in relation to gender and/or occupation; is there anything you specifically set out to challenge or ask your audience, or is it meant to be left open to reader interpretation?
HURLEY: Most of the themes are meant to be left open to interpretation. There are 7 billion people in the world, and that means that are 7 billion different sexual identities as well. Hopefully, everyone can see an aspect of the story that relates to them.
HAUN: Exactly. We came to this book wanting to shine a light on our culture’s odd obsession with beauty. The #BEAUTYFREE campaign was a little way we could be body positive and empower readers to join in and be happy with who they are. The response was really touching. I loved being able to print so many of the meme pics in issue three of the book.
GWW: Was there any particular significance behind making the “Beauty” disease an STD, and presenting the story from a law enforcement / government perspective? Did that idea come right away, or were alternative types of viruses or points of view (e.g. if the protagonists were sex workers) discussed?
HURLEY: We always envisioned The Beauty as an STD, I don’t know that we would have been able to build the story we wanted to tell around it had it been anything else. The drive of people to attain an idealized version of themselves, their obsession with perfection, was the main theme that we wanted to explore with this arc. Making the Beauty sexually transmitted allowed for us to have characters that sought the disease out, driven by those vain desires. If it were something that was highly communicable, and just “happened” to people, we would have lost that aspect of the story. The point of view, however, was something that went through a lot of permutations. We knew that we were wanting to tell a government conspiracy/thriller kind of story, and we eventually landed on the trappings of a police procedural being the most efficient way to introduce that.
GWW: On that note, considering the way issue #6 ended — no spoilers! — is there anything you’d like to or are able to hint at about #7? For example, will there be a change of dynamic in the next story arc, and will we be following the same characters the same way? I just hope we haven’t seen the last of Vaughn!
HURLEY: We’re going to be doing some jumping around both character and timeline-wise over the next several story arcs. We used the first story to set up the world of The Beauty, and the ticking clock of its two year life cycle. Now, we want to look at what happened during those two years. How the disease spread, how it affected different aspects of society, and how the lives of people in different walks of life were both directly and indirectly changed by this infection. Rest assured though, we’ll definitely be seeing more of these characters in future arcs.
HAUN: We have things planned out through the fifth arc. We can adjust things in there a bit–add an issue here and there, that keeps things fun. As we go along, though, the arcs kind of weave in and out of one another. We had to do some pretty strategic planning so that characters and stories that we set up in the first few arcs pay off big down the road.
HURLEY: Most of the long term planning is in weaving the overarching story together. Most of the character moments are allowed to breathe a little more, and be more spontaneous.
GWW: One of the things I love about THE BEAUTY is how cinematic it is — the story and artistic staging flow wonderfully to push that “dramatic thriller” feeling, as does John Rauch’s coloring! Are there any sequences or panels that stand out in particular to you as the most successful?
HAUN: Well, thanks! We put a lot of work into the look and feel of the book. I feel like John and I have really done some of the best work of our careers together on The Beauty.
As for stand out sequences- I tend to love the quiet moments. In the last couple issues, we get to catch a couple glimpses of Brandon’s home life. They’re just these perfect little bits of domestic bliss. Rauch colored them perfectly.
GWW: I haven’t asked any character-specific questions, mostly because I imagine most of the answers would involve future spoilers, but how much of THE BEAUTY do you consider driven by the premise vs. driven by the characters? If you had to choose one character or one relationship to encapsulate the “heart” of the story as you see it, which would it be?
HAUN: I’d hope the answer there is both driven by premise and characters. Initially The Beauty was all high concept. We asked a question- “What if you could catch physical perfection?” Beyond that though, it all becomes about the characters.
The “heart” of The Beauty is easily Vaughn. From moment one, she was the character that both Hurley and I latched on to. She sees The Beauty for what it is and wants nothing more than to be free of it.